Some 3.1 percent of adult women who regularly attend worship services have been the target of sexual advances by a religious leader, according to a survey released Wednesday.
The study, conducted by researchers at Baylor University, found that the problem is pervasive and cuts across a all denominations and religious traditions.
The findings mean that in the average U.S. congregation of 400 adult members, seven women, on average, have been victimized at some point in their adult lives.
The study also found that more than two-thirds of the offenders were married to someone else at the time of the advance.
“Because many people are familiar with some of the high-profile cases of sexual misconduct, most people assume that it is just a matter of a few charismatic leaders preying on vulnerable followers,” said Diana Garland, dean of the School of Social Work at Baylor, who co-authored the study. “What this research tells us, however, is that clergy sexual misconduct with adults is a widespread problem in congregations of all sizes and occurs across denominations.
“Now that we have a better understanding of the problem,” she said, “we can start looking at prevention strategies.”
At least 36 denominations now have policies that list sexual relations between clergy and adult members as misconduct, subject to disciplinary action, according to the Washington Post. In Texas and Minnesota, such contact is illegal.
The researchers say their work is the largest scientific study into clergy sexual misconduct with adults.
The study involved 3,559 non-institutionalized English- or Spanish-speaking adults. The women were all 18 or older and said they attend worship services at least once a month.
The report is set to be published later this year the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.